Monday, October 5, 2009

St. John Vianney

Last Saturday, I heard an absolutely extraordinary homily at Mount St. Mary's Seminary given by a certain Fr. Miller. This was given in the context of a conference on the life of St. John Vianney, and I share here just the closing thoughts:
The greatest penance the Saint performed was his heroic availability to his people. What would you do as a priest if so many people came to your confessional that you had to sit there for three hours a day seven days a week? That’s how it started with Father Vianney! Three hours soon turned into six, then into ten, then to sixteen hours a day. He sat in a cold Church in winter and a sweltering Church in summer. So many people came from such distant places that they often had to wait for a week to see him. Please note that this charismatic phenomenon confirmed Vianney in the asceticism that he had chosen as his way of priesthood. His service as Shepherd permitted him no “days off” – no vacations – no working out in the gym for hours on end - no fine dining – no preoccupation with financial matters. Surely the poorest of the poor always felt comfortable in his company and in his home. Father Vianney relaxed each day by visiting the girls in the orphanage that he had founded. The Divine Lover of Souls kept asking the priest for more of his time and energy. He never said “no” – even though he was tempted to say “no”.

Three times in his long pastorate John Vianney ran away from Ars in the shadows of night. Why? He felt he was neglecting his spiritual life. He yearned to be a monk, a hermit. Surely, he was overwhelmed by what he heard day in and day out in the confessional. Surely, it was nerve wracking to be so available to so many people at such a level of intimacy day in and day out. It was all too much and he ran away. Each time en route to his destination, John Vianney turned around and returned to Ars. It was his obedience to Christ that brought him back to the tiny Church of Ars. He believed Christ had called him to be a priest and spoken to him through his Bishop so many years before: There is not much love of God in the parish of Ars. You will bring some to it. It was his ever deepening “yes” to Christ that has made Saint John Vianney a beacon of Divine Mercy in the Church of God.

The most important truth Saint John Vianney teaches us about the Priesthood is that the ministers of Christ become holy only by serving the Lord’s flock. Everything and anything that impedes that service is not of God. The grace of the priesthood is the grace of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

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